Defamation Act changes the UK legal landscape

Defamation cases against media groups halve in five years
Two men walk past the headquarters of the German postal and logistics group Deutsche Post AG in Bonn March 9, 2010.
REUTERS/Ina Fassbender

New research from our Legal business shows sharp reversals in various trends relating to defamation cases in the UK, as well as the implications of the new Defamation Act, which received Royal Assent in April this year.

The number of reported defamation court cases against media companies has reached its lowest point in five years, falling from 48 in 2008-2009 to just 20 in 2012-2013, though cases against public sector bodies have risen significantly, up from just one case five years ago to nine in the last year.

Cases brought by businesses

While the research results also show growth in the number of defamation cases brought by businesses, the new act may reverse this trend.

Under the new law, companies that bring a defamation claim will now have to show that they are likely to suffer a serious financial loss as a result of the defamation – an even greater challenge for businesses.

Defamation cases are also increasingly involving private individuals as defendants, as the ubiquity of email, blogs and web forums makes it ever easier to defame a personal or business contact.

Decline in celebrity cases

The research also shows a steady decline in defamation cases brought by celebrities over the last few years, with only seven reported cases this year from stars such as Elton John, Naomi Campbell and Katie Price, (down from 11 five years ago). Conversely, the number of political figures bringing forward defamation claims has slightly increased, with six cases this year, compared to three, five years ago.

Regardless of the party affected by the new law, "in the long term, the Act is likely to reduce the number of defamation cases in England and Wales, but it is possible that we may see a short term spike, as the statutory provisions are tested in the courts," says David Price QC, co-author of Defamation: Law, Procedure and Practice.